52 Stories: A Journey

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place sometime before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter!

-M

***

The Journey

He walked, feet pounding on the sun baked road, the cracked stone of the highways. They had not been tended in years, but who would tend them? Not Gayyan, the city that lived only in name and memory. When he passed her walls, arrows had followed his path, but only from habit—the desert raiders who owned Gayyan’s streets now would not fear a lone soldier, arm in a bloody sling, half-gone from the sun and the journey.

He was not sure if he could feel his feet any longer, or if they hurt so much that he did not comprehend it. He knew his feet met the ground only from the jolt that traveled through him. At some time, he’d had a walking stick. He must have dropped it somewhere. No sense going back now. He could walk, and that was enough.

 ***

The dawn that day was beautiful, stars fading from a brilliant night into a riot of red and orange, wind blowing the distant salt-scent of the sea…unless it was blood he smelled. With dawn, came peace. The voices that had troubled him in the night had fallen silent one by one. He was not sure if he had cried out with them. He knew only that his arm was gone, and that if he wanted to survive, he must look at it to see that it was gone, accept that, and drag himself from the battlefield.

He did not look for a very, very long time. What was a man with one arm, after all? Not fit for a sword or a spear, not fit for a laborer. A scribe, perhaps, but only in the back rooms, where no one would see him. His family would have to tend to him.

It was midday when the thirst broke him, and he turned his head to look. The bone had shattered, but the arm remained. He looked at it for a long moment, considering. He should take it off here, himself, but he had little strength left and he needed to find the others, wherever they might be.

He rolled himself onto his good side, and began to crawl.

 ***

He thought of her often: black-haired and green-eyed, her skin a deeper brown than his own, her fingers long and graceful. In her silk, the blue silk she favored above all other gowns, she was a vision. He remembered her passion now, the exultant laugh as she looked down on the city.

“We will own half the world someday,” she told him. “The whole world, perhaps. Our children will make port in any city, and be welcomed.”

She believed it. She believed it even when he marched away.

 ***

They did not want to set the bone, and he argued with them. He promised gold, influence. He promised anything that came to mind. The surgeon was not swayed, her dark eyes flat. Later, he would think that she had seen too much pain, that she was beyond caring because so many had died under her hands. Then, he felt only rage.

It was her assistant who helped him, the man’s pale face unmoving as his fingers set the bones in place.

“I have nothing for the pain. If you want to keep your arm, you must keep still without opium.”

It was an eternity before the man sewed the wound shut.

“Will I keep the arm?”

“Only the gods know that.’”

When he left, a voice spoke from the darkness: “You’re lucky.”

“Lucky.”

“There are few they help anymore. There are no bandages left. Camp fever took the chief surgeon last week.”

He looked over at her. She had the paler skin of Gayyan. “How were you wounded?”

“They took my leg.” She looked back at the ceiling.

She died in the night.

 ***

He was close to the city when he realized his little sister would have had her second birthday by now. He’d been gone long enough for that. Eighteen, and old enough for the army. He wondered if she’d been hidden away; they were already starting to do that when he was drafted, and the City Guard bribed neighbors to inform on who was keeping their children from the army.

He would find the money for a bribe, he decided. The priests might help him hide her, or perhaps the Merchant Queen would take her on one of the ships.

Anything but this.

 ***

“If we don’t leave, we’ll die.”

“Do you honestly believe we’ll make it back to the city?” The man eyed him with weary contempt.

“Yes.”

“Then you’d best start thinking about what will happen when you get there.”

“What does that mean?” He cradled his arm in the sling and let his fingers trail over the bandage on his arm. The wound itched; he thought he remembered that was good.

“They left us here to die for a reason, boy. What will you do, go back and say the war is failing?”

“It is failing.”

“And they’d welcome you for saying that? For coming back with that arm, and telling everyone how it is in the north? You’re more of a fool than I thought. Go if you want.”

 ***

He could stay here, not return to the city, take a job on one of the outer holdings. They were kind, these farmers—more often than not, when he awoke in the hollow of a clearing or the corner of a barn, he found a loaf of bread and a jug of clean water for him, olives salty and sweating, perhaps a slice of crumbling cheese. He could work for his keep.

These people had enough trouble feeding their own; he kept walking until the city walls appeared from the shimmer above the road. It was only then that he hesitated. They did not know what had happened in the north—and he did not know what had happened here.

They would welcome him.

He started walking again, his arm aching. The others had given them their meager gold to see him home, and he had not used a single coin. The leather pouch was sweaty against his palm.

They would welcome him. They would.

There was no line at the gates, no one coming to Iskendrun to sell or barter. The guards watched him approach, eyes narrowing to see him.

They would welcome him.

He limped up to the doors.

“Citizen?” The word was curt.

“Yes.”

“Name?”

They would welcome him. And he would see a flash of fear in his mother’s eyes when she opened the door. He knew that now. The others were right. He could keep them safe…with his silence.

Or perhaps there was another way. He held out the pouch carefully.

“How about you say I had no name?”

The guard considered him for a moment, and then he stood back, snatching the purse away.

“Welcome to Iskendrun…citizen.”

 

52 Stories: What Has Been Lost

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place sometime before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter!

-M

***

What Has Been Lost

Iskendrun is not what it once was, my darling.

At night, she goes to the windows to look out—not over the balcony that overlooks a quaint little courtyard, or even to the windows that gaze out above the streets paved with white stone and adorned with flowers. She goes silently through the house, brushing her fingers across the hangings as she walks, and she creeps up the back stairs that only the servants use, climbing to the roof itself.

Once, every citizen had gold in their pockets, and they had the proper respect for a lady such as yourself.

She looks out over the city, the sea of crooked roofs that is, her father tells her, a crumbling wreck of what it once was. From the walled gardens with their cypress trees and the tiny lemon grove, she cannot see the city, cannot hear it. Only music is fit for a lady’s ears, and only beauty is fit for her eyes.

So they say.

They make vile threats in the city now. They forget the Temple we built and the market we created.

Often when she goes out into the streets of the Nobles’ Quarter, strolling through the shaded boulevards with her friends, she wants to stop and ask the City Guard what they see. They leave the Nobles’ Quarter every night and descend into the chaos of the docks, the markets, the Refugee District. While she leans over the walls, squinting to make out the metal shanties and the bright-painted banners, they see such things every day. What is it like now? She would give anything to know.

A young lady, she is told, does not ask such questions. A young lady does not wonder about the slums and the merchants.

She dreams of walking in the alleyways of the Refugee District with the smells of roasting meat and curry. In her dreams, she is alone—she cannot even imagine the refugees. On the docks, she imagines pirates with curved swords and jaunty headscarves. Sometimes she hears of Azura, the merchant queen, and she imagines what it would be like to sail up the coast on Azura’s ship, the famed Fateh with its blue prow. She might go to sea one day, of course; her father tells her that they are arranging a marriage for her in Tirwall, with the terms to be concluded when the war is over. But then, she would not go on a merchant ship.

Iskendrun is not what it once was…

She remembers what it once was. She remembers going to the markets and the docks, peeking out from the curtains of he sedan chair to see the traders with their hats and cloaks. Her mother chided her, but with an indulgent smile. She was only a child, with everything before her. She would rule the city someday.

No one wanted to tell her when it all went wrong. It took threats and pleas and three gold coins before she could make her maid tell the truth—about Dahilah perishing in screams and cannonfire, about the troops marching north, about the market stalls standing empty. They made a bargain, lady and servant, and the girl comes to her every night with tales from the marketplace. She won’t venture to the Old Docks, where she says the rebels hide, or the Refugee District with its strange songs and capricious ruler. But she tells the lady everything she knows.

Someday, the lady promises herself, she will rule Iskendrun as she was meant to. She has no intentions of going north to her unknown bridegroom. She will bring gold to Iskendrun once more, and the citizens will love her, and she will be able to walk the streets of her city without even a guard. The citizens will see that the rebels are nothing more than troublemakers, and she will hang them for their lies and the city will be free. It is a harsh punishment, but then, their crimes are grave—they tell slanderous lies, and everyone must know that she is strong as well as kind. In time, they will see that she is just and fair and generous, and all will be as it once was.

Someday.

***

Want to know more about Iskendrun? Read more about your character, the Traveler, in this sneak peek, and then head on over to Kickstarter to back the game – there’s an exclusive short story campaign running during the month of February!

-M

Faction Leader Profile: Navid

Navid Quote

First, an update: over $5,000 in 24 hours! Thank you! Let’s keep the momentum up!

We couldn’t do this without your support, and you’ve helped make our first 24 hours a fantastic success. So let’s keep it going! Try to see if you can get one more person to back today – just one. Every individual backer matters, and we need YOUR help to make the goal.

Please post about the campaign and share with friends. You can follow THIS LINK to post to Twitter, and THIS LINK to post on Facebook! Every single backer is invaluable, and we are so glad to have you on board. The first 48-72 hours are crucial for Kickstarter, so it’s imperative that we keep the ball rolling!

Now, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the first of our Faction Leader Introduction Series! Let’s kick things off with Navid, leader of the Iskendrun priesthood!

-M

***

Navid

“Go forth, child, and fight for those who need you. Remember, by your deeds shall you be remembered on this earth, and not by your path to them. If you seek to aid the poor, the sick, and the weak, you must be prepared to take more than what is offered.”

Wise, trustworthy, and respected by all in Iskendrun, Navid leads the priests in a life of service to the city’s poor. Mindful of the source of the city’s wealth, Navid has never overtly criticized the nobility…though he is creative when it comes to his methods for securing donations.

As the city teeters on the brink of collapse, Navid looks only inward, to the pressures of poverty on the citizens, and to the exhortations of the gods that he secure the city’s prosperity however he can. Blaming the merchants for the peninsula’s collapse, Navid eyes their well-armed ships and builds a force of his own. Which begs the question…just how far would he go to end Azura’s reign in the peninsula?

——————

Finally, a big shout out to Children of the Zodiark! They were kind enough to tell their backers about City of the Shroud, and they have a pretty sweet looking game to boot. If you haven’t checked out their tactical JRPG + CCG/craftable dice hybrid, you absolutely should!

zodiark

52 Stories: Rising to a Challenge

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place just before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter! If you play City of the Shroud, YOU will be the traveler – and will become a legend in the city of Iskendrun…

-M

***

Rising to a Challenge

The traveler grabbed at the flickering edges of the cloak, billowing away in the wind. It provided little warmth even when it was held shut, the old homespun being more patched than not, and with holes between the patches. The traveler resolved to leave it behind upon reaching the city, for who would hire such an ill-dressed worker?

Sand and rock crunched underfoot on the road. Once, this highway had been well-maintained. Iskendrun had been on the rise, then, and careful of its reputation. It maintained the roads well over halfway to Gayyan, in the north, and to the foothills of the mountains that separated it from Dahilah, though no one traveled them. The traveler had heard all of this from passing merchants. In those days, everyone agreed that it was wise: reckon they’re right, then. Can’t afford to look shabby. We’ll show them what we’re made of.

Then, of course, Iskendrun boasted of its grain and leather, oranges and lemons shipped south to Dahilah’s indolent nobles, iron tools shipped north for Tirwall’s endless statues and marbles. No one had any illusions about where Iskendrun lay in the hierarchy of the city states, but neither did they accept their place as fair. Did not Iskendrun’s farmers work as hard as anyone’s? Were their boulevards not as clean, their markets not as prosperous? It was old prejudice that held them back.

The traveler supposed that everything that followed was inevitable, then. Sixteen years old and kept well back from the road for fear of the draft, they had watched the army march north. Men and women looked ahead with determination, singing as they kicked up a cloud of dust that could be seen halfway to the city itself.

The traveler remembered, too, when it all changed. When the youths who were marched north looked younger every year, and even the youngest children of the outer holdings were hidden in the stables and root cellars, when the armor they saw no longer held the burnished rose of Iskendrun, but was patched and dirty. The armies no longer sang, and once or twice they raided the fields, and no one had the heart to stop them. No one ever came back from the north, and they all looked hungry.

It took a long time for the hunger to reach the outer holdings, where they made their own goods and sold only the excess. For a time, prices rose. And then the blight hit, for they had planted too many years of grain on the same fields.

And so the traveler walked, in a patched cloak and old boots that hardly deserved the name. It had been many months since the last soldiers went north; word was, the nobles were thinking better of their grand plans. Safe enough, then, for the traveler to go to the city and look for work—dockhands would be in short supply, there being few youths left in the city.

The traveler was just considering whether to stop for water and a bite of hard bread when the portal opened. Hanging over the road, shedding its skin in scraps of color that disappeared before they hit the ground, it held a deep blue glimpse into a world beyond, a world…dark, strange, and yet familiar. A road wound onward in the darkness, like the traveler’s path and yet terrible in its strangeness.

And from the mouth of it, poured creatures, shadows in the shape of acquaintances half-remembered, so odd in their appearance here that the traveler began to wonder what another might see, or if those acquaintances were like the fairies from the old tales, taking the shape of humans until it suited them to show their true form.

They stretched up, ghostly swords and staves in their hands, and the traveler fumbled for the hilt of the little dagger by their side. It was only days before the nursery rhymes would begin, and the whispered conversations in the taverns of Iskendrun: how a poor child of the outer holdings had defeated the creatures from a portal, with only their wits and a blade so dull it was hardly useful for cutting meat.

But the traveler did not know that yet. The traveler had learned only that hardship battered at every door now, that wolves would take the sheep from the meadows and blight would take the crops from the fields, and that there was no running from danger. There was a voice calling from the portal, strangely familiar. The traveler ignored it, and settled into a crouch, ready to fight.